One year after Roe, abortion rights advocates see groundswell of support for constitutional amendment
by Lily Fineout

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'That is volunteer-powered enthusiasm that is greater than anything I've seen.'

One year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade, the state’s legal and political clash over abortion is more than just a theoretical battle.

In the last year, a right granted 50 years ago was gutted and stands to be rolled back even further, to the point that abortion will not be an option for most pregnant women in the state.

For anti-abortion advocates it’s a win they have been working toward since Republicans gained control of state government more than two decades ago. But frustration among critics that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — earlier than most women even know they’re pregnant — has borne a new organization: Floridians Protecting Freedom.

The new organization aims to circumvent the Governor and the Legislature and give Florida voters the chance to weigh in on the thorny question of abortion rights in the 2024 General Election. Opinion polls show the majority support these rights.

But to get a proposed amendment enshrining abortion access in the state constitution on the ballot, the group must first collect nearly 900,000 signatures from registered voters. The ballot initiative will also have to be reviewed by the state Supreme Court, which must decide whether the ballot is confusing or whether it violates a single subject requirement.

With 240,000 signatures from registered voters already collected, optimism abounds.

Indeed, this weekend, organizers from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and south to Broward County will be holding events aimed at, as Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani described it, turning “pain into power.”

She’ll be headlining an event in Orlando with U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, that will include speakers, an update on the ballot initiative, and training on petition collection.

So far, about 150 volunteers have RSVP’d, she said.

“The feedback has been incredibly positive — people are very excited,” Eskamani said.

Organizers at the Pride Center in Wilton Manors said they are also expecting a big crowd for the “Broward Fights Back” event, that will include two women who were cuffed for the cause after the Senate agreed to the six-week ban.

Democratic Senate Leader Lauren Book and Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried were both arrested at a Tallahassee protest on April 3 following the Senate vote and will be speaking. Charges were ultimately dropped against both women.

The National Latina Reproductive Coalition and Planned Parenthood will have representatives there, along with elected leaders, such as Democratic Rep. Robin Bartleman and Coral Springs Commissioner Nancy Metayer, the first-ever Black woman to win that position.

Organizer Emma Collum acknowledges the ballot initiative is a gargantuan task.

“Uphill battles are the ones worth fighting,” said Collum, who has served as chair of Ruth’s List Florida, an organization dedicated to electing pro-choice women candidates.

Florida law requires physicians to report monthly to the state the number of abortions they perform. A report posted by the state Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) on June 6 showed that 33,010 abortions had been performed in Florida so far this year.

Included in the total are abortions provided to 2,980 women who came to Florida to get an abortion. There have been seven reported cases of infants born alive after an abortion procedure in the first six months of 2023, according to the state-published data.

There are 50 licensed abortion clinics in Florida. There were 82,581 abortions performed in 2022. Of those, the state received 16 incident reports detailing 17 resulting injuries, according to the  2022 edition of AHCA’s regulatory abortion report.

Floridians Protecting Freedom campaign consultant Raymer Maguire has been involved in four constitutional amendment campaigns in Florida — the 2014 and 2016 medical cannabis campaigns; the 2018 campaign to restore voting rights to felons; and the 2020 minimum wage campaign.

What sets the abortion amendment campaign apart from others for which Maguire has been involved is the groundswell of support at the volunteer level. He said more than 2,000 volunteers have been trained on Florida’s laws and messaging points while collecting petitions.

“That is volunteer-powered enthusiasm that is greater than anything I’ve seen,” Maguire said, adding that he expects the volunteers to collect more than 300,000 petitions from registered voters.

“For comparison, I think both the medical marijuana campaigns collected somewhere around 120(,000) to 150,000 volunteer petitions. The voter restoration campaign collected over 200,000. I believe this campaign is on track to collect over 300,000 volunteer petitions,” he said.

While the volunteers are many, Floridians Protecting Freedom also has hired a firm to help gather the needed signatures and said the effort was “just going gangbusters.” Floridians Protecting Freedom announced Thursday it had collected more than 240,000 petitions, of which 60,000 were collected by volunteers or submitted directly to the campaign via mail by Florida voters

“It’s just going faster than any initiative I’ve been a part of,” Maguire said adding if the current pace continues “we are going to end months before the deadline. And that is a position that we were not anticipating to be in.”

Broward volunteers coming this weekend already have territory mapped out for them. They’ll be armed with better training to avoid pitfalls the petition drive has already seen in its first months, Broward organizer Collum said.

“A big thing that we’re seeing, for example, is people need to write ‘Broward’ or ‘Miami-Dade’ under the column for county,” she said. “People are reading quickly and writing ‘USA,’ because they think it asks for country.”

Laura Goodhue is the executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. Like Maguire, she also sees a groundswell of support for the proposed constitutional amendment.

Goodhue attributes the level of support in part to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Roe v. Wade as well as Florida’s recently adopted ban on abortions past six weeks of pregnancy. But she adds those aren’t the only reasons motivating people to support the ballot initiative.

Prior to championing a six-week abortion ban DeSantis, who is running for President, twice vetoed funding that would have provided lower-income women access to long-acting reversible contraception. Former Senate President and current Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, a self-described pro-life Republican, pushed for the funding, noting that women have more opportunities when they can prevent unwanted pregnancies.

DeSantis also signed a 15-week abortion ban into law in 2022. The ban, contained in HB 5, went into effect after the Dobbs ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade. That law is currently being challenged before the Florida Supreme Court of Florida. The six-week ban would go into effect if the 15-week ban is upheld. Additionally, DeSantis in 2020 signed into law SB 404, legislation which requires written consent from a minor’s parent or legal guardian for an abortion.

“I think what you’re seeing is (a reaction to) an overreach by extremist legislators in Florida, whose ultimate mission is to end access to abortion and take away decisions, from the people who get pregnant, about their futures,” Goodhue said.

She said voters are also galvanized by worry that the Florida Supreme Court may bow to the Governor and uphold the 15-week abortion ban.

DeSantis has appointed five of the seven Supreme Court Justices and all the female justices. Moreover, the high court last year allowed a 24-hour waiting period for abortions that had been enjoined since 2017 to take effect.

“So that’s why you see citizens have filed a ballot initiative to restore abortion access and defend abortion access in the state’s constitution,” she said.

The proposed constitutional amendment states: “No law shall prohibit penalize delay or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health as determined by the patient’s health care provider. This amendment does not change the legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion.”


Florida Politics reporter Anne Gegis contributed to this story

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


  • PeterH

    June 23, 2023 at 10:53 pm

    The decision concerning abortion must be left between a women and her physician. Republicans claim that Democrats want abortions performed in the 8th month of pregnancy. The fact is some doctors must perform a late term abortion but statistically these abortions later than 21 weeks are less than 1% of all abortions. There are only a handful of doctors in the USA who perform such surgeries.

  • Don't Say FLA

    June 25, 2023 at 7:27 am

    GOP and abortion are the dog that finally caught the car.

    That dog still has no idea everyone in the car is singing Karma Is My Best Friend.

    GOP dogma, meet karma.

  • Nevin Goosome

    June 25, 2023 at 7:30 am

    I went to Miami recently and the streets were littered with wire coat hangers and deceased young women.

  • Peggy

    June 26, 2023 at 3:10 pm

    If abortion is against your religion, then just don’t get one.
    See how easy that is.

    But cramming your superstitious beliefs down the throats of others in the form of draconian laws won’t be met well.

Comments are closed.


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